A New Little Ice Age by 2030?

Will the solar lull of the coming decades bring a cooling down? A glance at scientific publications

Maunder minimum 1677 Abraham Hondius
In this 1677 painting by Abraham Hondius, “The Frozen Thames, looking Eastwards towards Old London Bridge,” people are shown enjoying themselves on the ice. In the 17th century there was a prolonged reduction in solar activity called the Maunder minimum, which lasted roughly from 1645 to 1700. During this period, there were only about 50 sunspots recorded instead of the usual 40-50 thousand. Image credit: Museum of London.

Rarely has the Sun been as active as during the past five decades. Read here. Is it pure chance that the strongest increase in temperature of the past 500 years occurred precisely during that same period? Yet, a few years ago, a page was turned, and the Sun stopped its hyperactive phase. Almost nobody had expected it. Surprise, surprise! Solar physicist Leif Svalgaard of Stanford University hit the nail on the head in December 2013, at the yearly convention of the American Geophysical Union: http://www.space.com/23934-weak-solar-cycle-space-weather.html

“None of us alive have ever seen such a weak cycle. So we are going to learn something.” Read more

Science immediately turned its attention to the phenomenon and began to speculate where this might lead us. Among the more recent working papers belong Qian et al. 2014 "Secular changes in the thermosphere and ionosphere between two quiet Sun periods," Zhao et al. 2014 "Modulation of galactic cosmic rays during the unusual solar minimum between cycles 23 and 24" and McCracken & Beer 2014 "Comparison of the extended solar minimum of 2006-2009 with the Spoerer, Maunder and Dalton Minima in solar activity in the past".

After several studies, it is becoming ever clearer: we have seen only the beginning! The Sun will lose in strength in the decades to come as well. This has practically become a consensus among solar physicists. Among recent investigations are those of Roth & Joos 2013, (read more) which predict a return of solar activity to average values for the 21st century. Salvador 2013 goes farther and assumes the occurrence of a solar minimum for the coming 30-100 years. Read the abstract of his paper.

Using many features of Ian Wilson’s Tidal Torque theory, a mathematical model of the sunspot cycle has been created that reproduces changing sunspot cycle lengths and has an 85% correlation with the sunspot numbers from 1749 to 2013. The model makes a reasonable representation of the sunspot cycle for the past 1000 yr, placing all the solar minimums in their right time periods. More importantly, I believe the model can be used to forecast future solar cycles quantitatively for 30 yr and directionally for 100 yr. The forecast is for a solar minimum and quiet Sun for the next 30 to 100 yr. The model is a slowly changing chaotic system with patterns that are never repeated in exactly the same way. Inferences as to the causes of the sunspot cycle patterns can be made by looking at the model’s terms and relating them to aspects of the Tidal Torque theory and, possibly, Jovian magnetic field interactions

The Journal of Geophysical Research published in December 2013  a study by Goelze et al., which is also predicting a further decrease in solar activity.

What might the climatic consequences of this? In their book Kalte Sonne, German scientists Fritz Vahrenholt and Sebastian Lüning assume that this could entail a decrease in temperature by 0.2 degrees, and that the stop in warming would continue in the future. Russian scientists are seeing the situation as even more dramatic.

Russian scientist Vladimir Bashkin claims that climate changes display a cyclical character and are not connected with human activity. Together with his colleague Rauf Galiullin, of the Institute for Fundamental Problems in Biology of the Russian Academy of Sciences, he establishes that the present warming is an echo of our planet‘s leaving the emerging from the „little ice-age“ and that we will be soon – at least according to geological scale, geologically speaking, be confronted with a new little ice age.

"The Little Ice Age returns with a periodicity of 500 years. The preceding one occurred in the middle oft he past millennium, when the Thames froze over, the Dutched lived on skates and foreigners in Russia were startled to see trees bursting under the action of the frost. Periods of cooling and warming succeeded each other at a distance of 30 to 40 years. For instance in Russia there occurred a warming in the 1930s, when navigation became possible on the Northern Seaway, this was followed by a cooling during the war years, then there came a warming in the 1970s, etc. The present warming period ended at the threshold oft he Millennium.

The beginning of a new cycle of cooling is related to a change in solar activity. The radiation output of our home star is receding, which has an influence on the climate.

What is expecting us is not a global warming, he says. Yet there is no need to fear a cooling, either, it will develop only slowly and will begin to be noticeable only by the middle of the 21st century.

Other scientists share in his view, among them Professor Cliff Ollier of the School of Earth and Environmental Studies at the University of Western Australia. He presented a paper in Poznan, Polandin which he described the sun as the major controller of climate, but not through greenhouse gases."There is a very good correlation of sunspots and climate. Solar cycles provide a basis for prediction. Solar Cycle 24 has started and we can expect serious cooling."

H.S. Ahluwalia of the Department of Physics & Astronomy of the University of New Mexico concurs, as he explains in the journal Advances in Space Research in February 2014. He assumes a solar minimum of the Dalton-Type and reminds us that the last minimum of this type, which occured around 1810, resulted in cold period.

From Kalte Sonne, translated from the German by Anne-Marie de Grazia

Moscow Lomonossov University - Diminishing solar activity may bring new ice age by 2030

Dr Helen Popova Lomonossov University Moscow
In the current study published in 3 peer-reviewed papers the researchers analysed a total background magnetic field from full disk magnetograms for three cycles of solar activity (21-23) by applying the so-called “principal component analysis”, which allows to reduce the data dimensionality and noise and to identify waves with the largest contribution to the observational data. This method can be compared with the decomposition of white light on the rainbow prism detecting the waves of different frequencies. As a result, the researchers developed a new method of analysis, which helped to uncover that the magnetic waves in the Sun are generated in pairs, with the main pair covering 40% of variance of the data (Zharkova et al, 2012, MNRAS). The principal component pair is responsible for the variations of a dipole field of the Sun, which is changing its polarity from pole to pole during 11-year solar activity.The magnetic waves travel from the opposite hemisphere to the Northern Hemisphere (odd cycles) or to Southern Hemisphere (even cycles), with the phase shift between the waves increasing with a cycle number. The waves interacts with each other in the hemisphere where they have maximum (Northern for odd cycles and Southern for even ones). These two components are assumed to originate in two different layers in the solar interior (inner and outer) with close, but not equal, frequencies and a variable phase shift (Popova et al, 2013, AnnGeo).

The scientists managed to derive the analytical formula, describing the evolution of these two waves and calculated the summary curve which was linked to the variations of sunspot numbers, the original proxy of solar activity, if one used the modulus of the summary curve (Shepherd et al, 2014, ApJ). By using this formula the scientists made first the prediction of magnetic activity in the cycle 24, which gave 97% accuracy in comparison with the principal components derived from the observations.

Inspired by this success, the authors extended the prediction of these two magnetic waves to the next two cycle 25 and 26 and discovered that the waves become fully separated into the opposite hemispheres in cycle 26 and thus have little chance of interacting and producing sunspot numbers. This will lead to a sharp decline in solar activity in years 2030—2040 comparable with the conditions existed previously during the Maunder minimum in the XVII century when there were only about 50-70 sunspots observed instead of the usual 40-50 thousand expected.

The new reduction of the solar activity will lead to reduction of the solar irradiance by 3W/m2 according to Lean (1997). This resulted in significant cooling of Earth and very severe winters and cold summers. “Several studies have shown that the Maunder Minimum coincided with the coldest phase of global cooling, which was called “the Little Ice Age”. During this period there were very cold winters in Europe and North America. In the days of the Maunder minimum the water in the river Thames and the Danube River froze, the Moscow River was covered by ice every six months, snow lay on some plains year round and Greenland was covered by glaciers” – says Dr Helen Popova, (picture above) who developed a unique physical-mathematical model of the evolution of the magnetic activity of the Sun and used it to gain the patterns of occurrence of global minima of solar activity and gave them a physical interpretation.

If the similar reduction will be observed during the upcoming Maunder minimum this can lead to the similar cooling of the Earth atmosphere. According to Dr Helen Popova, if the existing theories about the impact of solar activity on the climate are true, then this minimum will lead to a significant cooling, similar to the one occurred during the Maunder minimum.

However, only the time will show soon enough (within the next 5-15 years) if this will happen.[Dr. Helen Popova of the Skobeltsyn Institute of Nuclear Physics and of the Faculty of Physics of the Lomonosov Moscow State University. “Given that our future minimum will last for at least three solar cycles, which is about 30 years, it is possible, that the lowering of the temperature will not be as deep as during the Maunder minimum. But we will have to examine it in detail. We keep in touch with climatologists from different countries. We plan to work in this direction”, Dr Helen Popova said.The notion that solar activity affects the climate, appeared long ago. It is known, for example, that a change in the total quantity of the electromagnetic radiation by only 1% can result in a noticeable change in the temperature distribution and air flow all over the Earth. Ultraviolet rays cause photochemical effect, which leads to the formation of ozone at the altitude of 30-40 km. The flow of ultraviolet rays increases sharply during chromospheric flares in the Sun. Ozone, which absorbs the Sun’s rays well enough, is being heated and it affects the air currents in the lower layers of the atmosphere and, consequently, the weather. Powerful emission of corpuscles, which can reach the Earth’s surface, arise periodically during the high solar activity. They can move in complex trajectories, causing aurorae, geomagnetic storms and disturbances of radio communication.

By increasing the flow of particles in the lower atmospheric layers air flows of meridional direction enhance: warm currents from the south with even greater energy rush in the high latitudes and cold currents, carrying arctic air, penetrate deeper into the south. In addition, the solar activity affects the intensity of fluxes of galactic cosmic rays. The minimum activity streams become more intense, which also affects the chemical processes in the Earth’s atmosphere

The study of deuterium in the Antarctic showed that there were five global warmings and four Ice Ages for the past 400 thousand years. The increase in the volcanic activity comes after the Ice Age and it leads to the greenhouse gas emissions. The magnetic field of the Sun grows, which means that the flux of cosmic rays decreases, increasing the number of clouds and leading to the warming again. Next comes the reverse process, where the magnetic field of the Sun decreases, the intensity of cosmic ray rises, reducing the clouds and making the atmosphere cool again. This process comes with some delay.

Dr Helen Popova responds cautiously, while speaking about the human influence on climate.

“There is no strong evidence, that global warming is caused by human activity. The study of deuterium in the Antarctic showed that there were five global warmings and four Ice Ages for the past 400 thousand years. People first appeared on the Earth about 60 thousand years ago. However, even if human activities influence the climate, we can say, that the Sun with the new minimum gives humanity more time or a second chance to reduce their industrial emissions and to be prepared, when the Sun will return to normal activity”, Dr Helen Popova summarised.